When Guardians of the Galaxy was announced many predicted this was the beginning of the end for Marvel Studios, no one was going to care about a series of fairly niche comic characters like they did the Avengers. Of course as we know the film was a huge financial and critical success and for me stands out as my favorite of all the Marvel movies to date. It was just so unexpected and different to what had come before, if anything like Raiders of the Lost Ark was famously described once, Guardians of the Galaxy was lightning in a bottle.
So, expectations for James Gunn sequel were understandably far greater this time around, and it is very rare that a sequel can live up to that level of hype and imagination.
There is plenty to enjoy here, and, in fact, I think the opening prologue sequence was even more ambitious and impressive than what we saw in the first Guardians of the Galaxy. The film has a lot of heart, James Gunn has clearly chosen character development over plot for this sequel and hey, The Empire Strikes Back did the same thing, and that worked out pretty well.
The movie is about family and what it means to you no matter where you find it. It’s no secret that a large part of this family drama would be the relationship between Peter and his father, Ego. We have known for some time that Kurt Russell was playing Peter’s biological father, and the superstar is perfectly cast in a potentially challenging role. Though his initial appearance and motivations highlight that the movie has a relatively pedantic plot, it is definitely a script issue rather than a performance issue, as Russell and Pratt are great together on screen. While Peter and Ego are understandably the emotional core, every character is given somewhere to go, and something to do…for the most part.
The difficulty with with having an ensemble cast is that you are going to be struggling with the time and pacing to have fully developed character arcs for everyone. Gunn tried not to leave anyone out, but by that token I felt Drax was given far less to do than the others, and instead became mostly the comic relief. Ironically enough, I didn’t find hime to be as consistently funny as he was in Guardians. This “too short amount of time with each character” was also compounded by adding Nebula, Yondu and Mantis, to the roster of Guardians, made Drax’s own underdeveloped arc stand out even more. Mantis also feels a bit underdeveloped, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she and Drax both had scenes cut in favor of a brisker pace.
(A Guide to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
But after Rocket makes the characteristically shady decision to steal rare, high-powered batteries from The Sovereign, the Guardians end up in their natural state of “on the run” once again. But a crash-landing sends them on separate paths, after they’re rescued from a Sovereign attack by Ego (Kurt Russell), an omnipotent being who’s also probably Star-Lord’s dad. Star-Lord, Gamora, and Drax return to Ego’s planet (named Ego’s Planet), where only Ego and his right-hand Mantis (Pom Klementieff) reside. Mantis is an empath, hyper-attuned to the feelings of others, and she helps Ego rest. It’s the only thing that works for him. Rocket and Groot, meanwhile, are tasked with fixing the ship and guarding Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s still-vengeful sister.
Too much? Well, there’s plenty more. We’ve yet to touch upon the continued adventures of Yondu (Michael Rooker), who’s been ex-communicated from the Reapers for his intergalactic child trafficking. Or Star-Lord and Gamora’s will-they-won’t-they tension. Or the number of beings who want a piece of the Guardians for one reason or another. And yet, somehow, Vol. 2 manages the substantial feat of tying together its many disparate threads into one of Marvel’s more emotionally developed movies to date. For such a packed tale, Gunn manages to one-up the character work that made the first Guardians so appealing, adding to each character in ways both familiar and welcomed. If the previous movie was about bringing the group together, Vol. 2 poses a handful of great comic and dramatic questions about what it might take to keep such a crew intact.
Vol. 2 leans heavily into the rapport of its cast, and the leading team settles back into its roles with charm. Saldana manages an effortless cool in what’s a more restrictive role on paper, but her and Gillan’s increasingly heated battles achieve an impressive dramatic resonance. The film is obsessed with families of all kinds, and the idea of Nebula as an enraged, disappointed second child is given time to grow even richer than it did the first time around, with both actresses ably conveying the sense of hurt underneath the heavy but near-comical violence between them. Bautista is a comic highlight once again as Drax, his literalisms offset nicely by Klementieff’s doe-eyed approach to the same. (It’s a slight letdown when some of their exchanges see Gunn’s screenplay turn a shade more mean-spirited in a way that barely fits the film, but this is also a movie about superheroes who call each other dicks on a frequent basis, so it’s a mild distraction at worst.)
To be honest I enjoyed the film but one of my main issues I had with it was likely a self-inflicted one. Simply put, it didn’t blow me away like the original did. It’s hard to pin down why, but it just never quite had the same fire in its belly, and perhaps that’s due to Guardians’ sheer originality, which is hard to replicate in a sequel. Maybe my own expectations were just too high.
Another potential letdown for some fans is that this is very much a sequel, and not so much as a chapter of a bigger story. With Guardians being such a self-contained Marvel story and the announced future Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, I was really hoping for this to be a classic trilogy of beginning, middle and end. Perhaps that’s just not possible with the Guardians next showing up in Avengers: Infinity War, which is still currently filming across the globe. Rather than feeling like the middle part of a trilogy as I hoped, Guardians of Galaxy Vol. 2 is more in line with a traditional sequel. It does not really leave us many story arcs to be resolved in a third instalment, or mysteries that remain unanswered. Though there is one hint of future events within the after credit sequences which will get the hardcore fans excited for the third installment.
Character issues and expectations aside, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very good movie. You’ll laugh, you may cry, and the visuals and action are awesome per the Marvel standard. This is one of the better Marvel movies to date and will run you through every emotion from start to end, you’ll laugh, cry with sadness, happiness and ultimately have a roaring good time with some old friends. In fact if you are not smiling like a child during that opening sequence then you might as well give up on movies now, you can’t beat a bit of Baby Groot. I just perhaps wish they had taken a few more risks with the rest of the movie like this.